For about a year now, African countries have had some respite from regular sermons and lectures on democracy, human rights and the friends they keep.
This is not because of a flagging of zeal of the preachers, or because their lessons have been well learnt and taken to heart. Nor is it due to a sense of mission accomplished because African leaders whom they target have finally been converted.
It has more to do with the domestic situation in the countries of the various crusaders. Three particular circumstances explain this breathing space.
One is the advent of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America. His America First policy has started a quarrel with the United States’ rich trading partners.
That keeps them occupied trying to resolve potential trade wars and other related political and diplomatic issues, and off the back of the rest of the world.
President Trump also has his domestic quarrels with everyone who is not of his base, the mainstream media, activists of every colour, and even Congress. For the time being, these internal contests are taking up so much of their attention and offering us some respite.
Trump appears to favour strongman rule that African leaders have often been accused of. He is as ‘guilty’ as they are and has no inclination to lecture like-minded individuals.
He has another sin that we have always been told was peculiarly African. He has little faith in institutions of government, particularly those designed to keep in check his executive power.
And, of course, he has no desire to deal with shithole countries, and certainly has no room for anyone wanting to leave them and come to his country. Even lecturing them is beneath him. This, in addition to a particular dislike for other people, especially if they are not white and rich. Call it racism if you will.
Under Trump, the bar on the moral and ethical behaviour of leaders has been lowered. It is inconceivable that they might want to raise issues of a similar nature with leaders of other countries.
In a way there is a sense of shared sins between President Trump and African leaders who have traditionally been the target of the many lessons on democracy and human rights.
The second is Brexit that is keeping the United Kingdom and the European Union so occupied that they seem to have little time for anything else. It is sapping the energy of the UK. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is divided on the issue, as is her Conservative Party.
Her own authority is rather tenuous. Even Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, has not been free from the fallout from Brexit. The UK’s trade relations with the rest of the world, but more especially with the EU, are now the most pressing items on its political and diplomatic agenda.
That is why the UK government is looking for alternative trade deals with countries outside the EU. Only last week, Prime Minister May led a delegation of business people to China. David Cameron did the same a few years ago when he was still prime minister.
When African countries were getting cosy with China, they were roundly criticised for it, that they were doing so because the Chinese are little bothered about African governments’ record on human rights.
Now the UK and other western countries are doing exactly the same thing. We don’t hear concerns about China’s human rights record being raised now. All the attention is on business.
Again we are in the same sinful state and so no one has the moral right to point out the other’s sins.
The third, and related to the above two, is the rise of nationalism in the West and its anti-immigration stance. Keeping foreigners at bay, away from their borders, and generally having as little as possible to do with them is the central plank of this position.
In Trump’s America, it is represented by the planned wall on the border with Mexico, ban on immigrants from certain countries and a general anti-migrant attitude.
This temporary respite should be an opportunity for African countries to do what they have always wanted to do but complained that they were prevented by external interference.
At the domestic level, it should be possible to build political institutions best suited to national realities and that deliver to citizens, free of external dictates. It should provide opportunity to grow economies, especially considering possible reduced donor support and, more importantly, strings that go with it.
On the continental level, it provides an imperative to strengthen inter-African trade and economic integration. There is already movement in this direction with the coming into effect soon of the continental free trade area and the open skies for air transport.
The framework for all this is the reform process of the African Union that should be speeded up.
Africa should seize the moment this respite provides.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times Publications.